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Hazard, H. W. (ed.) / The fourteenth and fifteenth centuries

XVIII: The Aftermath of the Crusades,   pp. [unnumbered]-666 PDF (7.8 MB)

Page 657

 With the failure of the Hungarian crusade, the imperial city was virtually
abandoned to its fate.13 Even the ruling class within its walls recognized
in some way or other the suzerainty of the sultans. When John VIII died in
1448, his brothers Constantine and Demetri us disputed the succession to
the imperial throne; the sultan ap proved the selection of Constantine Dragases
as emperor. On Murad's death in 1451, his son and successor Mehmed 11(1451—1481)
was destined to obliterate the last traces of the eastern Roman empire within
the next two years. 
 The downfall of Constantinople, long foreseen by its contempo raries, was
deferred by the Turks only until they had completed all their preparations.
On the Byzantine side, the position of the city was worse than ever. It was
impoverished and depopulated. Wl1ole districts were in ruins, and the population
in those latter days was estimated at 45,000—50,000. The walls built
by Theodosius II, and constantly repaired, nevertheless betrayed signs of
old age and debil ity in several places. The emperor became unpopular with
his sub jects since he, like his immediate predecessors, declared union with
the Roman see in the church of Hagia Sophia, in the hope that the west might
come to his relief. The fury of the Greeks found a strong leader in the person
of their future patriarch Gennadius, alias George Scholarius, a monk of the
convent of the Pantocrator. Certain members of the community, like Lucas
Notaras, a high dignitary and admiral of the fleet, went so far as to say
that they would rather see the Turkish turban than the papal tiara in Constantinople.
Constan tine's army of defense could not have exceeded 8,000 for the whole
length of the immense walls. Of these, the Chronicon maius, falsely attributed
to the Greek chronicler Sphrantzes, tells us, 4,973 were Byzantine soldiers,
while the rest were Genoese and foreign volun teers and mercenaries. Their
war materiel was continuously depleted without hope of any substantial help
from outside. 
 On the Turkish side, the picture was totally different. Although Mehmed
II was only nineteen on his accession to the throne, he had already gained
considerable experience in both civil and military administration during
his father's reign. Since 1444, he had either ruled alone or shared the affairs
of state with the old sultan. It was obvious from the beginning that he had
set his mind wholly on the capture of Constantinople. To ensure a free passage
for his troops from Asia to Europe, he constructed in 1452 a great fortress
13. On the last years of Constantinople see above, pp. 101—103, and
Steven Runciman,The Fall of Constantinople, 1453 (Cambridge, 1965). 

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